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May 10, 2008

"Racial Inequity and Drug Arrests"

The title of this post is the title of this editorial in today's New York Times.  Here are snippets:

The United States prison system keeps marking shameful milestones. In late February, the Pew Center on the States released a report showing that more than 1 in 100 American adults are presently behind bars — an astonishingly high rate of incarceration notably skewed along racial lines. One in nine black men aged 20 to 34 are serving time, as are 1 in 36 adult Hispanic men.

Now, two new reports, by The Sentencing Project and Human Rights Watch, have turned a critical spotlight on law enforcement’s overwhelming focus on drug use in low-income urban areas. These reports show large disparities in the rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, despite roughly equal rates of illegal drug use....

The looming challenge, says Jeremy Travis, the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is to have arrest and incarceration policies that are both effective for fighting crime and promoting racial justice and respect for the law. As the new findings attest, the nation has a long road to travel to attain that goal.

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May 10, 2008 at 11:09 AM | Permalink


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"despite roughly equal rates of illegal drug use"

Hmmmmmmmmmm. I thought that we didn't want to incarcerate users--I thought we wanted them to get treatment.

If blacks are more likely to commit drug offenses that get you locked up, i.e., drug dealing, why is that a remarkable finding?

And what of "law enforcement’s overwhelming focus on drug use in low-income urban areas"? Given that drug-dealing in those areas makes those places unliveable, it's not surprising that law enforcement devotes substantial resources to combatting the drug trade there.

Perhaps, just perhaps, these organizations could look at the urban criminal discount that disproportionately benefits minority criminals.

Posted by: federalist | May 10, 2008 11:18:54 AM

Have they proved that drug incarcerations are unequal with respect to Black, Hispanics and Whites? I think that they probably are but I would be hard pressed to prove that was true because over 90% of all convictions are the result of a guilty plea.

It is possible to introduce racial/ethnic bias into the criminal justice system some of the mechanisms are
1. Conditioning
a) Whites are conditioned to be suspicious of Blacks and Hispanics
b) Blacks and Hispanics are conditioned to be suspicious of the police
2. Police policies and practices increase the probability of an arrest of a minority citizen. Examples are
a) Traffic stops
b) Enhanced police presence in neighborhoods with large minority populations
3. Racially dependent release or detain in jail criteria
a) used at initial appearance
b) used at bond reduction hearing
4. Racially dependent criteria used at a revocation hearings resulting from a violation of probation, parole or work release. The outcome could be committal to prison or an alternate sanction
5. Racially dependent criteria used at sentencing. This mechanism has been given all of the attention
6. Racially dependent criteria used to select persons for parole

The criteria are supposed to be based on evidence and the much of the evidence consists of the offenders demeanor, criminal history, economic status and educational attainment. All of these factors (except for demeanor) are highly correlated with race/ethnicity so it is very difficult to isolate the response of the CJ system to race/ethnicity factors.

I am not aware of a comprehensive study of the problem of racial/ethnic bias in the CJ System most of what I have seen are very superficial studies focused almost exclusively on drug policies and the persons inside the CJ System won't look at the evidence because they are in denial.

Posted by: John Neff | May 10, 2008 4:20:36 PM

Here's an example of the "urban discount":


Posted by: federalist | May 12, 2008 3:14:09 PM

Yawn... another attempt to make the illogical conclusion that because there are disparate arrest rates the explanation is racism. It does not follow, and is a cheap substitute for reasoning.

Of course police resources go to drug-ridden urban areas, since with open air drug markets and high drug usage rates go higher rates of property crimes, weapons crimes, and crimes of violence.

In suburbia, where the drug dealing and use is private, these other crimes do not follow.

Posted by: Tom | May 13, 2008 8:14:02 AM

Blacks have a very good reason to be suspiscious of the police this supspisciousion dates far back when blacks had no voice in their own commuinity. Yes the law are racially bias where as a white man get arrested with five grams of powered cocaine and he is charge with a misdemeanor and a black man recieve 5 years un fair and totally racially bias. I live in Los Angeles it doesn't matter if you are a student or a drug dealer if your are black then you are a target by the police for racial profiling.Malcolm X stated as long as we black so called americans live below the canadian border we are in the south with that bein police all over the United States treats blacks totally un fair. In Los Angeles we see celebrity doing the same crimes as under privilege black youth and adults. These stairs get a way withit constantly Lindsey Lohan for one if she was Black there would had been jail time for her no chance to prance around free to continue do her childish deeds. We may have a Black president but we are still in some ways in the south. In many ways back in the 90's and afo-american girl shot in the back of the head after leaving the store where she was in a confrontation with a Korean woman now in Law enforcement training would tell you that was murder but since the girl leave in a ghetto like commuinity, and she is black the law just gave the Korean a slap on the wrist as to say "You are not to shoot blacks on camera do it without witnesses" It would be hard press to say that we are far remove from the Jim crow era where blacks where hang beaten and threaten constantly. It still goes on today but it is done in the courts Judisously.

Posted by: Khalif Rashid | Sep 11, 2012 3:54:54 PM

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